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  • Writer's picturePhoebe Hildegard

Cantrips, or Minding the Fundamentals

I’m old enough to remember the internet back in its untamed, feral, fecund days. The thing is, it wasn’t any more dangerous then. It’s really much more dangerous now with targeted ads and data harvesting, eyeball tracking and all that. (All the more reason to be working whatever protection magics you’ve got at your disposal.)

Nazars or amulets against the evil eye
Nazar amulets have been used to protect against the evil eye since at least the 16th century BCE

Word to the wise: if you’ve got a nazar like this and it breaks, get rid of it. Throw it in a trash can away from your home, or better get toss it in running water. If it breaks, it’s done its job of protecting you. I was dismayed a few years back to find a friend who works in glass art had saved several of her broken nazars “to fix one day”. This is like keeping rotten eggs around, just get that stuff away from you! The internet itself gets me down sometimes. What with all the tentacles of empire and its purposefully addictive algorithms. It wasn’t always this way. When the new regulations came into being, we were all assured that they were for our own good. That’s always how regulation and control works. Whoever is benefiting from the control system will tell the ones he is controlling that this is natural, moral, and correct, even divine. And well, some of that nonsense gets codified and handed down through the ages, becomes Holy Tradition or what have you. Some of that stuff gets mixed in with magic and we end up having to unpick it later, but magic itself lives on. The direct experience of the spirits, of cause and effect, of what gets called "supernatural" but has really always been a part of nature. Prayer, spirit contact, ceremonial workings, offerings, dream interpretation, divination, verbal charming, harnessing the power of herbs, timing works by the moon, the planets, the stars… I’m fascinated by the ways magic takes on myriad cultural forms but the techniques stay relatively conserved throughout time and space. To illustrate my point, let’s look at some altars from Venezuela, Benin, and Myanmar:

Three altars from three different continents. Those working them come from different lineages. They speak different languages, they may have vastly different goals and reasons for working. And yet we can observe several similarities just from a single photo of each active altar.

The use of statues to represent spirits, to give them a place to be and a form to inhabit strikes me first of all. Then I notice that in all 3 of these examples, the spirits are being fed with some kind of food offering. The food offerings are generally the same kinds of things humans or animals eat, i.e. the spirits are fed with actual fruit, meat, or beverages and not with plastic food or prop food. I don’t see any candles on photo number 3, but I picked these and I know that that’s a Weizza altar from Myanmar and I’ve seen the Weizza use candles before. I also know it’s a press photo and it makes sense that the altar wasn’t fully being worked at the time. So we can count the use of candles or fire as another commonality in practice. Of course many more similarities can be found, but for now I’ll just point out one more. In all three photos, you can see the use of beaded necklaces, which are of course commonly used in SO many cultures to count repetitions of prayers. Don’t mistake my cultural comparisons for lazy universalism. The cultural details and specificities of various traditions absolutely matter. At the same time, it’s deeply instructive to compare and learn from many traditions. I live in America and the spiritual landscape is such a mess here, we really need all the help we can get in recovering and creating protocols for dynamic magical work that can start to clean things up. As we reconnect with the magic some of us lost through colonialism, tracing common threads of practice across culture can offer guidelines. If I notice that magicians or spirit workers across the world are all doing something, I should either also be doing that thing or have some really good reason that I don’t. So then let me pose these simple questions to you, my readers: Do you keep an altar? Are there images or statues of spirits there? Do you feed them, and how? And how does fire figure into your work? Lastly, do you work with any kind of beads in your practice? Well, speaking of the material culture of magic, I’ve crafted a few things to use in my own magical work lately. I’ve been really enjoying starting to make bigger batches so I can share some of what I make with you all, and just naturally letting my practice guide what I offer in the shop. The first of these small batch magical materials is available now!

The link above leads to a Prosperity incense I made when the Moon was conjunct Jupiter in Pisces in December. It's a warming, generous smell that makes me so happy, and I’ve been using it in my own work with the spirits of Jupiter. I’m eternally fascinated by the evocative power of scent and its clear that through the ages spirits have been too. I’ve also been potentiating a lot of my mixtures with a very special material that’s connected to my work with both the local fae and the land spirits, see the link above if you’re curious for more info.

A Teacup full of Jupiter Incense
Jupiter in Pisces Incense with Hyssop, Saffron, Nutmeg, Lemongrass, Cinnamon, and more.

The longer I work magic and study astrology, the more keenly aware I become of my own cycles, the cycles of those around me and the ways they interlock with the stellar spheres. I’ve been adding and refining timing systems for my spellwork and spirit calling for years now. It started with observing moon phases, which really can make a big difference although it took me awhile to really grok it, there’s some misinfo out there. Eventually I added planetary days and hours, astrological transits, all the way up to doing full chart elections. I’m working with more and more fixed stars in the past 2 years. Increasingly these days I’m looking at various Vedic astrological sources and Mayan too, it’s really instructive to see where the different models do and don’t agree. As ever, here are some links to peruse to deepen your magical study: -I’ve been enjoying the Astrology forecasts that Sparklesofgold posts. He’s sweet and real, quite a rarity online these days. And his astrology is solid. Here's his channel.

-Fascinated by this short documentary about Korean mudang Kim Keum-hwa. In particular I was excited by her use of performance before an audience… that line where performance and possession overlap is something I’m exploring in my personal work.

-Lastly I invite you to watch this brief interview with Georges Bataille on the subject of Literature and Evil. Bataille is very lucid and concise here. The points he makes about writing, about horror and the necessity of facing what frightens us in life, are so deeply applicable to the work of magic. And he discusses Charles Baudelaire, so you know I’m about it.

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